Wyoming man turns passion for leatherworking into a career
What do bucking machines, classic cars, and western saddles have in common?
A saddle maker by the name of Link Weaver.
Born on a ranch in Lewistown, Mont., Link learned the value of quality which was a lesson he took to heart in all aspects of his life.
Link had an interest in leatherwork at an early age and spent years watching his father build saddles during the winter months when ranch work would slow down. When his family moved to Sheridan, Wyo., and he began looking for work, leatherwork was an easy choice as he admitted the craft “always seemed to come natural” to him.
At age 17, Link started working for Dooley Saddle and Boot Repair where the owner taught him how to build his own boots to compensate for the light wages he was able to pay. Later, he took a job at King’s Saddlery where he began building tack and twisting ropes. He learned everything from crafting breast collars and skid boots to building ropes starting in the grass fields all the way to the sale counter.
After several years, though, Link decided to explore other areas of interest and acquired a degree in Auto Body Repair from WyoTech. After graduation, he returned to Sheridan and tried to make a go in his new career, but after less than a year of struggling to make it in the auto body world, Link returned to King’s as a leatherworker.
Link’s leatherworking career took a leap forward when the saddle repair guy at King’s left and Link stepped in. He started repairing odds and ends on the hundreds of saddles that came into the shop and began picking up on the common mistakes and areas that many saddlemakers skimp on.
His strong work ethic and desire to produce quality products that last, pushed him to make every repair the best repair he’d ever done.
He explained, “Even if I was recovering a saddle horn on a saddle that maybe was only worth $300 brand new, I still try to make it the best looking saddle horn I’ve ever covered, every time.”
After years of piecing saddles together for repairs, though, Bruce King saw Link’s talent develop.
“I’d already done so much repair work I’d practically built a hundred saddles just in different pieces,” said Link.
But the first saddle he built from start to finish came to him on a slow winter day when Bruce handed him a modified association tree and said, “Here, play around with this.”
Link built a plain rough-out saddle with a flat plate rigging that sold at King’s for over $2,500. After that, Link began building more saddles at work and at home. He continued saddle repair at King’s which gave him ideas for improvement in his own work.
Today, Link has received accolades from The Art of the Horse Invitational Western Gear Makers Show and The World Leather Show, including an award for first place in the Don King Memorial Saddle Contest Open Division. He has teamed with esteemed Western artists such as John King, Jim Jackson and Vince Donley.
But even with these accomplishments under his belt, Link’s focus is producing quality cowboy gear.
“I would rather build a plain saddle for a real cowboy and have him say it’s the best saddle he’s ever had. That would mean more to me than building one that’s worth $30,000 to put in a show,” Link said, “There’s so many people out there that don’t know a good saddle from a bad one. But when you get a real cowboy who uses one and knows what he’s talking about and says, ‘Dang, that’s nice,’ that makes you feel like you know what you’re doing.”
Hard working ranch folk — Link’s main clientele — are typically quiet in nature and don’t always say a lot.
This is the case for one of Link’s repeat customers, Chad Donley, who has taken his saddles and worn stamping off and rode rough-out smooth. And although he may not hear reviews about his tooling or artistic take on the design, he does hear genuine feedback like, “I just choked a cow down with my new saddle and it works great!”
Link doesn’t rule out fancy patterns or new styles, but warned, “It’s hard to come up with new stuff. Every time you think you do, you can go look in the (Don King’s Western Memorial) museum and find out somebody’s already done it a hundred years ago.”
However, his artistic eye has drawn in many customers asking for his signature skirting accents. Link’s versatility and willingness to try new things has expanded his saddle portfolio to include everything from traditional vaquero-style saddles to flashy roping saddles.
His creativity has allowed him to create such leather items as dog carrier saddle attachments and motorcycle seats. On top of that, Link’s inventive mind combined his love of rodeo and mechanics to create completely original bucking machines.
While Link was still playing the rodeo field, he considered buying a bucking machine for practice; but being short on cash and seeing some areas for improvement, Link decided to build one instead. He described the first bucking machine he built as a “monstrosity” covered with shag carpet, but admitted that each subsequent machine “got better and better.”
Eventually he installed a double crank shaft to make the machine more realistic and finally created the “Juice Hog.” Word quickly spread of Link’s new bucking machine, and before he knew it, rodeo coaches and NFR competitors like Monty “Hawkeye” Henson were riding his creation.
Link’s desire to build, tinker and improve carries over into his hobby of restoring classic cars.
He doesn’t seem to be satisfied with a basic project of restoring a 1977 Firebird. Instead, he outfit the car with a steel spoiler, side exhaust and Cadillac seats to make it his own creation.
He doesn’t plan on returning to auto body work, outdoing any Western artists, or making the “Juice Hog” his full-time business. But he would someday enjoy working for himself and continuing to create quality saddles for hard-working cowboys.
The common link with bucking machines, classic cars, and Western saddles is the creation of something valuable — or as saddlemaker Link Weaver put it, “It’s neat to build something that didn’t exist before, and put it out into the world.” ❖